Healthcare Workers, Nursing, Travel Jobs

Covid-19 Impact on Travel Nursing 

Treyvon Kurr
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Nurses have been on the frontline of defense against Covid-19 from the very early days of the pandemic. As demand for their knowledge and skills increased, staff nurses themselves were becoming infected, leaving some hospitals understaffed.  

With higher workloads and long hours, some considered leaving their jobs. Others embraced the opportunities that travel nursing provided. Rather than working exclusively for one hospital, travel nursing meant avoiding burnout whilst increasing compensation.  

A New Nursing Landscape 

The coronavirus pandemic changed every single industry sector over the past two years. Healthcare is no exception, as overworked nurses have been looking for alternative ways to practice their profession. For many, travel nursing offered the solution they were hoping for and a welcome alternative to staying with a single employer.  

Industry experts are now calling the shift toward travel nursing a turning of the tide or sea change of the profession. Travel nursing is not a new phenomenon as such. What has changed is the number of registered nurses interested in spending at least some of their career as travel nurses.  

Traditionally, travel nurses bridge temporary gaps in hospital staffing. Their services were required to cover temporary leaves of absence, for example. Travel nurses also covered increased staffing requirements due to new wards opening, or seasonal surges in patient numbers.  

For years, the ratio of job openings for registered nurses remained stable between staff nurses and travel nurses. Unpublished data from Aya Healthcare put that ratio at one travel nursing vacancy to 1,000 staff nursing vacancies. A report by Bloomberg.com puts the pre-pandemic ratio at 3-4% of all nursing jobs, which has risen to 8-10%. 

The pandemic put an unprecedented strain on the nursing requirements of hospitals for several reasons. First hospitals had to cope with higher patient volumes. Second, during the initial Covid-19 waves, a substantial number of patients required specialist ICU care. Third, frontline staff like nurses were becoming infected with Covid-19 themselves and requiring care rather than being able to care for others.  

The consequences quickly became obvious. Staff nurses faced burnout due to grueling shifts. Many chose to work in non-hospital settings or retired from the profession as demands became unrealistic. Vacancy numbers for travel nurses started rising. 

What Makes Travel Nursing Attractive 

Travel nursing allows registered nurses to work through a staffing agency, filling a role temporarily. One of the obvious benefits travel nursing has in comparison to permanent roles is increased pay. Before the pandemic, flexibility and better pay attracted some nurses to temporary roles, but travel nursing remained on the fringe of the profession.  

The high demand for nursing staff changed the landscape for travel nursing. As hospitals were struggling to cover staff shortages, travel nursing wages kept rising and rising, far beyond previous levels. Thousands of nurses who had previously been on hospital staff heeded the call and opted for temporary contracts.  

Whilst travel nursing does require some flexibility, these temporary jobs do not involve daily or even weekly changes of location. The majority of contracts last for 13 weeks and do not necessarily require cross-country moves. However, for those looking to change their lifestyle and combine working and traveling, travel nursing provides that option.  

In addition, fixed-term contracts also help registered nurses prevent burnout. Once their contract finishes, they can choose to take a break before accepting the next assignment.  

A Safe Career Move 

Just a few years ago, travel nursing did not seem like an attractive option for most registered nurses. Following the salary increase due to Covid-19, however, the American nursing landscape has changed. Travel nursing has not only become a highly attractive option financially. Because of the growing number of travel nursing positions available, choosing this path has become a safe career move.  

The Washington Post cites an independent healthcare analyst reporting a 35% increase in travel nursing positions between 2019 and 2020. The increase was set to repeat once again between 2020 and 2021. Even now, in 2022, travel nursing continues to grow in popularity. 

Despite the obvious benefits for registered nurses, some sources advise caution. Changing location and adapting to new work environments may add to nurses’ stress levels and exacerbate burnout rather than prevent it. Moving to a new city also means losing access to existing support networks and may trigger feelings of loneliness.  

A report from Kaiser Health News suggests that some travel nurses were left without adequate personal protective equipment. Other reports highlight problems like unsafe housing for travel nurses.  

Is Travel Nursing for You?  

Healthcare recruiters continue to look for qualified registered nurses willing to travel. As some suggest that we are entering a post-pandemic phase, hospitals continue to struggle to fill permanent positions. As a result, travel nurses remain among the most sought-after professionals in the country.  

Adding travel nursing to your career is a great move if you are looking for a more flexible contract with highly attractive remuneration. Working with a reputable recruiter helps avoid some of the more common pitfalls of travel nursing to enjoy a long, fulfilling nursing career.  

MLee News

Start hiring the right way

Share article

Related Posts